“paging mike godwin, mike godwin to the news desk please…”

Many of you, given that you hang out on the internet, are probably aware of Godwin’s Law. For those who are unaware, and don’t want to click my elegant and well-crafted link, Godwin’s Law simply states that “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” While referring specifically to Usenet discussions, it has often taken on a wider meaning referring to the propensity for debates to, sooner or later, involve one side likening the other to Nazis or Hitler in an example of the beautifully named reductio ad Hitlerum* logical fallacy.

I bring this up because, never at a loss for words, the Republicans have wasted no time whatsoever in providing more support for the empirical validity of Godwin’s Law. And you can guess who they mean.

I refer to the remarks of U.S. Congressman Paul Broun** (GA-R) who is apparently concerned that President-Elect Barack Obama plans to install a Marxist Gestapo upon taking office. No, I’m not kidding:

A Republican congressman from Georgia said Monday he fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship.

“It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Rep. Paul Broun said of Obama in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may — may not, I hope not — but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.”

Broun cited a July speech by Obama that has circulated on the Internet in which the then-Democratic presidential candidate called for a civilian force to take some of the national security burden off the military.

“That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did,” Broun said. “When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”

“We can’t be lulled into complacency,” Broun said. “You have to remember that Adolf Hitler was elected in a democratic Germany. I’m not comparing him to Adolf Hitler. What I’m saying is there is the potential of going down that road.”

Now a couple of points here. First, I think it’s unclear what Obama meant but, really, I think he’s trying to imply that we should not be using our military for internal security matters. And that is, you know, not unreasonable from a legal perspective. Second, people, a civilian security force could also be known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation which is a well-funded, decently armed organization which, in addition to handling law enforcement, is part of our counter-espionage system. Third, Broun has, among other things, consistently voted for less governmental oversight of our current security organizations- including voting against Congressional oversight of CIA interrogations. You know, those interrogations that included a wee spot of torture. And when you’re pro-torture, it’s a little hard to accuse someone else of being more Gestapo-like than you are. Fourth, Barack Obama is not a Marxist. And calling him a Marxist doesn’t make him one. Fifth, Hitler was actually quite anti-communist and anti-socialist. The Nazis are, in fact, generally considered to be a right-wing party. So at least try and avoid mixing the villains in your invidious comparisons.

And finally, you just have to love that closing line about not comparing Obama to Hitler. Really, I don’t have a problem if someone wants to compare their opponent to Hitler. It’s almost always transparently unreasonable, and makes the person asserting the comparison look like a nitwit, but hey, it’s a free country. Thing is, it’s just a little silly to then try to weasel out of responsibility for what you’ve said.

* As a side note, I am giggling with the similarity between reductio ad Hitlerum and the sorts of spells that one would find in the Harry Potter books. Try imagining Rupert Grint casting that little bit of magic if you want a laugh of your own.

** As an additional side note: Woah! Check out that website! It's like the introduction to the Colbert Report but more over-the-top. I don't understand why there isn't a shot of him hugging a bundle of puppies while killing a member of al Qaeda with one hand.

3 thoughts on ““paging mike godwin, mike godwin to the news desk please…””

  1. As Godwin’s law has become better known, there is now a meta-Godwin’s law that as a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler followed by a mention of Godwin’s law approaches one. Eventually, a meta-meta-Godwin’s law will be needed.

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  2. Back in September I blogged a quick-and-dirty bit of “research” I did Googling pairings of “Hitler” and “Nazi” with each of the candidates. I assumed that right would be quicker on the draw with the reductium and that therefore Google would return more Obama-Hitler hits than McCain-Hitler hits. I was right, but the difference wasn’t all that large — about 20% greater.

    I guess Obama will arm this Gestapo with the guns he’s going to confiscate from all those guys in the red states.

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  3. It reminds me of the loose logical flow we used to have in National Debate Tournament Debates back when I was an undergrad….all arguments had to end in global nuclear war, and you had seven minutes to get there.

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